Iain Duncan Smith urges wealthy elderly to 'hand back' benefits

Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith said the wealthy elderly have a choice as to whether to hand back some of their benefits

Wealthy elderly people who do not need benefits to help with fuel bills, TV licences or free travel should return the money, the work and pensions secretary says.

Iain Duncan Smith told the Sunday Telegraph he would "encourage" people who do not need such financial support "to hand it back".

But the decision whether or not to do so was up to them, he added.

Deputy PM Nick Clegg said the suggestion did "not make sense".

Prime Minister David Cameron has already said the benefits would be protected for the entirety of this Parliament, including for the year 2015-16.

A general election will be held in 2015, and Mr Duncan Smith said there were no plans to means test to exclude richer pensioners.

He told the paper: "I have no idea what we will put into the manifesto... I have no indication of change.

"It's fair to say that [pensioners] are more vulnerable than others and we need to be very careful about what and when we do things, if we ever do."


Money is tight, savings are being made across government, but Sir Mick Jagger is entitled to a free bus pass.

If you think that is odd, some in government agree with you, including the cabinet minister responsible for benefits, Iain Duncan Smith.

But the prime minister has repeatedly committed himself to protecting universal benefits for pensioners, regardless of their wealth.

So Mr Duncan Smith is trying to square the circle.

His idea creates an image of a queue of pensioners posting banknotes through the Treasury's letterbox. Don't hold your breath for that.

And his cabinet colleague Ken Clarke acknowledged there was no mechanism for people to repay the government.

In short, bus passes, free TV licences and winter fuel payments are safe until the next election. But after that, all bets are off.

Among the benefits is the winter fuel allowance of between £100 and £300 tax-free to help people who have reached the state pension age with heating bills.

A free TV licence, worth £145.50 for a colour set, is provided for people aged 75 or over, while those aged over 60 can get free NHS prescriptions.

Eligible older people are entitled to free off-peak travel on local buses anywhere in England when they reach the state pension age. Schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland allow people aged over 60 to apply for free bus travel.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said people have always been able to contact the department if they no longer want to receive a benefit.

Mr Clegg said his Liberal Democrat party and coalition partner the Conservatives were at odds over pensioner welfare reform: "I think we should grasp this nettle. The Conservatives don't want to do so. That is a difference of approach."

He added: "When money is tight, you've got to have the right priorities in tough times. I think it's right to ask very wealthy, maybe multi-millionaire, pensioners to make sacrifices, just as we're asking families on lower incomes."

Election promises

Shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn said: "I don't agree with him (Mr Duncan Smith).

"The fact is we have certain universal benefits in our society, people have worked hard, they've paid their taxes and they get that, in this case, when they have retired."

Nick Clegg says there is a "difference of approach" between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats over plans for welfare reform

Entrepreneur Lord Sugar and nightclub owner Peter Stringfellow have been among those who have previously complained they have not been able to opt out of receiving the winter fuel allowance.

Former Conservative Chancellor Ken Clarke said: "Well, you can't hand it back to the government, I don't think it's a system for doing that.

"I think every pensioner and retired person, like myself, obviously has to make up their own mind about whether they really need it and whether they're going to give it to some worthwhile cause.

"No doubt, most pensioners who are reasonably prosperous give quite a lot of money to charity and worthwhile causes in any event."

Charity Age UK said encouraging wealthy people to give up the benefits could have a knock-on effect.

"It is open to anyone to decide not to make use of these benefits but when it is suggested that 'wealthier pensioners' should choose to forego them our worry is that some who are badly in need of extra help will feel less inclined to take it," director of external affairs Caroline Abrahams said.

"Older people on very low incomes sometimes minimise their own difficulties and refer to others they know who are worse off than they are."

Universal credit

Meanwhile, the introduction of a new system of benefits for working age people begins on Monday - and marks the biggest overhaul of the benefits system since the 1940s.

Pensioner Ann Davis: "I think they should give us the option to opt out"

Mr Duncan Smith said the new universal credit system was being implemented over four years because "I want to get these things right".

Under the new universal credit, six working-age benefits - income-based jobseeker's allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit and housing benefit - will be merged into one.

He said: "We want to say to people, you're claiming unemployment benefit but you're actually in work paid for by the state: you're in work to find work. That's your job from now on: to find work."

Universal credit starts on a limited basis on Monday for new claimants, who are single, who live in a small number of postcode areas in Ashton-under-Lyne in Tameside, Greater Manchester.

Trials in three more areas - Oldham, Wigan and Warrington - will begin in July.

From October, more claimants will move on to universal credit as and when they have a significant change of circumstances, such as starting a new job or when a child is born.

From April 2014 until October 2017, the rest of those affected in England, Scotland and Wales will be moved on to universal credit in stages. It will start in Northern Ireland from April 2014.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 536.

    More to the point, should wealthy MPs shun expenses?

  • rate this

    Comment number 535.

    The older generation have such a flawed sense of entitlement. "I've paid in for years, so I'm entitled to my pension..." [you've paid for the previous generations pension not yours], "I've saved all my life, never bought anything on credit" [that's not how capitalism works, you've stunted economic growth], "I've worked my whole life" [lucky you, lot of people want to work but there are no jobs].

  • rate this

    Comment number 534.

    Some people should practice what they preach, after you hypocrite.

  • rate this

    Comment number 533.

    It's hard to take comments like IDS's seriously. Why make a law and then complain that it is not being used in the way that you want it to be? If you were actually competent at your job (to make laws) then such claims would not be necessary to make. You are trying to pass off your own ineptitude as others lacking in morality. It's quite clear to me where the high ground lies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 532.

    I have worked hard all my life, paid into the system for 40 years and prepared for retirement. I and others like me are more entitled to these 'benefits' than any of the feckless crowd who were not prepared to save for their retirement and hope for an equally feckless government to provide for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 531.

    Benefits should be universal or not at all. There should be no penalty for good behaviours and habits like saving, providing your own pension, etc.

    By all means decide not to hand out some or all of these political gimmicks of the past to pensioners, but never give them only to the feckless who have less put by.

  • rate this

    Comment number 530.

    Really everything about the coalition is one big joke - policy on the back of an envelope and every comment not thought through. What is the point of this - asking people to voluntarily give back the benefits - he really is having a laugh just like his double barrel name. Far better to look at the personal allowance age allowance and tax benefits a portion because people are entitled to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 529.

    Please report the fact that bus passes are not issued automatically but have to be applied for unlike other benefits I know people who haven't applied and I am sure there are many "WELL OFF" who haven't.
    Also if bus passes are withdrawn or curtailed in anyway the buses will be empty and a lot of jobs will go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 528.

    so who have the Tory party not picked on now.. oh wait, I remember now... politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 527.

    IDS' latest attack on those receiving benefits they are entitled to is reached a new low. I get the attacks on the those who are workshy and elect to rear feral hoons as a means of gaining benefits to fund their lifestyle. However, attacking those that have paid more into the Govt's coffers then they will ever draw from is outrageous. Fix the benefits system, dont point to moral responsibility

  • rate this

    Comment number 526.

    Problem with this is that it won't just be "rich" pensioners, the likes of Sugar and Stringfellow, it will be all who have a modest private pension or those with more than £16000 savings etc

    Disgusting idea from IDS.

    Oh and BTW, the Basic State Pension is NOT a benefit. It has been paid for through NI contributions, no contributions, no pension. Any attempt to take that away would be stealing

  • rate this

    Comment number 525.

    Can we now assume that wealthy MPs, such as Iain Duncan Smith, will not now be making claims for their expenses? £39 for breakfast, was I believe, one of the latest claims from this freeloading welfare scrounger with his overblown sense of entitlement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 524.

    Rich elderly are mostly tory voters,

    this is why their benefits are not being cut. Voluntary reduction is a joke.

    i also read that top level of income tax went down

  • rate this

    Comment number 523.

    Yikes! The economy must be in trouble; the gov't it seems, is asking for a handout from the wealthy....its friends & co-horts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 522.

    Surely UK has some sort of means test, right?
    Surely UK doesn't just hand out benefits to "UN-NEEDY", right?
    Surely if you don't pay out these universal credits to the elite, situation would revert to nothing given, nothing to return, right?
    I think UK has overlooked the elephant squashing universal system, & that's wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 521.

    And what about those independently wealthy members of the Cabinet foregoing their ministerial pay? Any chance, Dave? Nick? No, thought not. Once more, one rule for the rich and another for the rest of us. Work all your life for a few paltry benefits in old age, they still look to take them away from you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 520.

    @472, Adam:

    "....benefits are being paid to people who don't actually need them."

    I would rather that than have anyone in need denied the assistance they require.

    It all comes down to the kind of society in which one wants to live - I don't want there to be cracks through which the truly needy might slip. (Low take-up can tend to persuade politicians that a particular benefit is not required.)

  • rate this

    Comment number 519.

    If this, or any government, targets universal benefits then this should be for the whole population, not just pensioners. What sort of welfare system pays benefits to people/families with incomes of £50k+ pa, living in their own house with a car, sat TV and all the gadgets going? It's a nonsense.

    Don't just target the pensioner.

  • rate this

    Comment number 518.

    That's fine for IDS and his mates will he give up his expenses.
    I bet not.
    Absolutely out of touch with reality. He was useless as the Tory leader and nothing has changed since.

  • rate this

    Comment number 517.

    Want the News our 'media' like to hide from you. APRIL 2013. This government gave massive tax cuts and handouts to the Rich while taking away from the poorest.

    No wonder the Church is speaking out. In anyone's language this is gross social injustice.

    We now have the widest gulf between Rich and poor since Victorian times. But our 'media' will claim the establishment are good and fair!!


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